Life goes on, even in business

    Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, came bounding into my office the other day. This was unusual, as she isnít prone to bounding.
    "Guess what?" she cried, unable to contain her excitement.
    This must be exhilarating news. The last time Ms. Ferguson had been so animated was when she discovered a $7,000 error in our favor when doing the bank reconciliation.
    "What? I give up. What?"
    Ms. Ferguson looked me right in the eye and gave me one of those syrupy smiles. "Two of your employees are pregnant. Guess who."
    Oh, dear God. What luck. My first thought was to check whether it would be legal to add a line to our employment application. You know, (check one):



Probably not.
     My second thought was, as a business owner of the Ď90s, Iíd be wise to look like a sensitive guy.
    "Thatís great news," I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
    Ms. Ferguson saw through it. "Donít worry," she said. "Itís not me."
    That was a relief. Ms. Ferguson and her husband will naturally have many little babies some day. And Iím sure she doesnít mind waiting until I retire before doing so. A lot of women have conceived in their 50s.
    I ended up guessing the two fertile employees and made the appropriate happy response. When I saw them later in the day I congratulated them warmly and sincerely made it clear that I was very happy for them.
    And I was. Happy for them. But letís face facts Ė pregnancy is quite often a major disruption to the steady flow of a business. I love babies and certainly understand and sympathize with the need to continue the human race Ė but preferably not on company time.
    But thatís life. While parents make the ultimate sacrifice, companies must make minor ones. California law requires, as it should, up to four months of maternity leave to pregnant employees of small companies (less than 50 employees), with the stipulation that the employee returns to the same or comparable position at the same rate of pay and the same possibilities of advancement.
    That certainly seems fair. But itís a difficult period. People are trained to replace the pregnant employee, but itís only temporary. It sometimes requires a major juggling act to keep everyone happy, and quite often it causes major problems.
    So Iím never too excited when the news comes that an employee is pregnant. Someone I know just got a job offer from a huge company with a well-deserved reputation for treating their employees very, very well. After the offer was in hand, she mentioned that she was pregnant.
    "What did your new boss say?" I asked, wondering what I would do if confronted with the same disclosure.
    "He said he was very happy for me," she replied. "He wasnít upset at all."
    What an actor! He couldnít have been happy. Heís just hired this woman, will spend six months training her and then, poof, off she goes for four months or so. Thatís tough, but what else can you do except look happy?
    Iíve become a master at looking happy. There certainly is no point in letting the expectant mother know that her decision to continue the human race has placed a burden on the company.
   Also, itís easy to forget that the financial burden is much more burdensome to the parent. Itís important to note that the four months of leave required by law is unpaid.
    Many companies offer some paid leave, and for some sappy reason that includes me. Thatís another reason Iím never too excited about pregnancies. Not only are they disruptive, but theyíre expensive.
    Last week, in fact, one of my employees gave birth to a little boy. Ms. Ferguson had given the mother a shower at work only the day before, which was her last day. The baby had come early.
    As is our custom, Ms. Ferguson made plans to send flowers to the hospital. At the same time, she handed me a check to sign. It was for the motherís regular pay, vacation pay, and the paid portion of her maternity leave. It would buy plenty of diapers.
    The mother wouldnít be back for 3-1/2 months. Weíd have to hire a replacement, train them, and then adjust. I looked again at the check and then said it, but I didnít really mean it.
    "Cancel the flowers."



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